President Barack Obama speaking in front of the Lincoln Memorial, asserted that economic inequality still plagues the United States despite the progress since the March on Washington led by the Rev. Martin Luther King 50 years ago from Wednesday.
To fix that, he advocated for a continuation of progressive policies, and also compared the civil rights struggle of King’s day with the contemporary debate over gay rights.
“Yes, there have been examples of success within black America that would have been unimaginable a half-century ago,” the president said at the “Let Freedom Ring” event commemorating the anniversary of the march. “But as has already been noted, black unemployment has remained almost twice as high as white employment, Latino unemployment close behind. The gap in wealth between races has not lessened, it’s grown.”
The president nevertheless called for a continuation of the same progressive policies of government regulation, dismissing a criticism of bloated government as divisive rhetoric.
“There were those elected officials who found it useful to practice the old politics of division, doing their best to convince middle-class Americans of a great untruth, that government was somehow itself to blame for their growing economic insecurity — that distant bureaucrats were taking their hard-earned dollars to benefit the welfare cheat or the illegal immigrant,” Obama said.
But the president went on assess self-defeating problems from the black community itself and racial politics that cut both ways, though he did not mention any names of contemporary leaders.
“And then, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that during the course of 50 years, there were times when some of us, claiming to push for change, lost our way. The anguish of assassinations set off self-defeating riots,” Obama said.
“Legitimate grievances against police brutality tipped into excuse-making for criminal behavior,” Obama said. “Radical politics could cut both ways as the transformative message of unity and brotherhood was drowned out by the language of recrimination and what had once been a call for equality of opportunity, the chance for all Americans to work hard and get ahead was too often framed as a mere desire for government support, as if we had no agency in our own liberation, as if poverty was an excuse for not raising your child and the bigotry of others was reason to give up on yourself.”
“All of that history is how progress stalled. That’s how hope was diverted. It’s how our country remained divided.”
The president said the march went beyond change for just African-Americans, setting a spirit of those who “kept marching.”
“Because they kept marching, America changed. Because they marched, the civil rights law was passed. Because they marched, the voting rights law was signed,” Obama said. “Because they marched, doors of opportunity and education swung open so their daughters and sons could finally imagine a life for themselves beyond washing somebody else’s laundry or shining somebody else’s shoes. Because they marched, city councils changed and state legislatures changed and Congress changed and, yes, eventually the White House changed.”
“Because they marched, America became more free and more fair, not just for African-Americans but for women and Latinos, Asians and Native Americans, for Catholics, Jews and Muslims, for gays, for Americans with disabilities,” Obama continued.